Country Report on Terrorism 2019 - Chapter 1 - The Netherlands

Overview: The Netherlands continues to respond effectively to the global terrorist threat in border and transportation security, counterterrorist financing, CVE, and bilateral and multilateral CT cooperation. On December 9, the Dutch lowered their national threat level from “substantial” (Level 4 of 5), where it had been since 2013, to “significant” (Level 3). The main threat is Islamist terrorism, followed by REMT (which the Dutch refer to as violent “right-wing extremism” or “right-wing terrorism”). The Dutch assess the threat of REMT violence as less acute in the Netherlands than in other European countries. The Netherlands has a comprehensive national CT strategy that implements policies to counter all forms of terrorism at the local level through multidisciplinary interagency cooperation.

The Netherlands is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, participates in Coalition working groups, and is co-chair of the Coalition’s FTF Working Group with Turkey and Kuwait. The Netherlands has liaisons embedded at various operational command centers, provided force protection, and contributed military personnel and trainers in Iraq. The Dutch do not contribute troops or aid in Syria. The Netherlands is a member of the GCTF.

2019 Terrorist Incidents: On March 18, a man shot random passengers on a tram in Utrecht, killing four and seriously wounding two. In a hand-written note left at the scene of the attack and in later police interviews, he cited religious reasons for his actions, including perceived mockery of Islam. Immediately following the attack, the government briefly raised the threat level to “critical,” the highest level, though only locally to divert resources to the manhunt. The prosecutor charged the man, Gokmen Tanis, with multiple counts of murder with terrorist intent. The trial was scheduled to start in March 2020.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Netherlands implemented CT legislation in line with relevant UNSCRs. There were no significant changes in law enforcement structures, capacity, international cooperation, or border security legislation in 2019. On September 10, the Second Chamber of Parliament (Lower House) approved draft legislation that would make it a punishable offense to reside in an area controlled by a terrorist organization without prior permission from the government. The proposal is pending deliberations in the First Chamber of Parliament.

On June 17, the Dutch began to implement the EU directive on PNR, which requires airlines to transfer passenger information to the Dutch Passenger Information Unit to be checked against databases and risk profiles.

Significant law enforcement and judicial actions related to CT included:

  • On July 23, the district court in The Hague convicted Oussama Achraf Akhlafa, a returned Dutch FTF, for committing a war crime in Syria. The suspect had his picture taken while posing next to a crucified corpse, thereby degrading the personal dignity of the victim. The court sentenced the suspect to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
  • On October 14, the district court of Amsterdam convicted 20-year-old Jawed Sultani for stabbing two U.S. tourists in Amsterdam central station on August 31, 2018. The court convicted him on two counts of attempted murder with terrorist intent and sentenced him to 26 years and 8 months in prison (the maximum under the charges) and a payment of almost $3.5 million in damages to the victims. Sultani, born in Afghanistan and residing in Germany as an asylum seeker, traveled to the Netherlands for the attack because he believed politician Geert Wilders insulted his religion.
  • On November 18, the district court of The Hague convicted 27-year-old Pakistani national Junaid Iqbal for planning a terrorist attack on politician Geert Wilders and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Iqbal traveled to The Hague in August 2018 and posted a video on Facebook threatening to kill Wilders, following Wilders’ announcement of organizing a Muhammed cartoon competition.
  • On November 25, police arrested two men on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack in the Netherlands. The investigation began in October based on information from the General Security and Intelligence Services that the individuals wanted to learn how to make explosives. The individuals reportedly told undercover agents they intended to commit a terrorist attack against an unknown target in the Netherlands before the end of the year using car bombs or suicide vests.

Returned FTFs undergo a threat assessment by the government; some returnees are prosecuted. The government does not actively repatriate FTFs and their children from camps in Syria but escorts back those FTFs who report to a Dutch diplomatic mission. On January 23, the district court in Rotterdam ordered the government to “do everything it can” to ensure that six female former ISIS members, who are currently in Syrian refugee camps, are brought into Dutch custody. The government announced it would incorporate four other women in similar situations in this effort. On November 11, a Dutch court ruled that the government must do everything it can, including seeking U.S. assistance, to repatriate 55 children of FTFs. On November 22, an appellate court overturned this decision. As of December 1, the women were still in camps in Syria.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The Netherlands is a member of the FATF and is one of the Cooperating and Supporting Nations of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, a FATF-style regional body. Its FIU, the Financial Intelligence Unit – Netherlands, is a member of the Egmont Group and contributes to Europol’s financial intelligence team. The Netherlands is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s CIFG.

In 2019, Dutch courts convicted at least seven persons for financing FTFs in Syria and issued sentences of up to nine months in prison.

The Dutch framework for countering the financing of terrorism applies to all EU-designated terrorist organizations and the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. As of December 2019, the government’s national terrorist watch lists include 139 individuals and four organizations whose assets were frozen.

Countering Violent Extremism: The Netherlands’ 2016-2020 National Counterterrorism Strategy contains measures to strengthen communities, build resilience to terrorist radicalization, and prevent persons from becoming FTFs. The strategy prioritizes prevention, among other themes. The government uses a local, multidisciplinary approach for prevention and develops tailored plans of action to intervene with individuals suspected of radicalization.

Community police officers are the cornerstone of the local approach to prevention. Other stakeholders include local governments, with the support of the Office of the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, the public prosecutor’s office, social workers, child protective services, educators, and community leaders. This approach prioritizes the use of preventive measures, including mentoring, counseling, and access to job-training programs and other social services. Similar programs also rehabilitate former terrorists. To counter terrorist messaging, local governments use outreach efforts with community and religious leaders to amplify credible voices.

The Dutch cities of The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht are members of the SCN.

International and Regional Cooperation: The Netherlands participates in the UN, GCTF, the EU, the CoE, the OSCE, and NATO. The Netherlands handed off its co-chair of the GCTF to Canada on September 23, but the GCTF Administrative Unit remained in The Hague. The Netherlands is on the governing board of the three GCTF-inspired institutions: the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism (Hedayah), the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law, and GCERF. The Netherlands also participates in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

The Netherlands continued to finance a wide variety of capacity building projects. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed regional security coordinators at six embassies who are dedicated to capacity building to identify terrorist radicalization. The Netherlands is an active participant in Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Center and the Counter Terrorism Group (the intelligence services of all EU member states plus Norway and Switzerland) to improve cooperation and information exchange between and among European CT services.